Survival of the Frummest: Darwinism and Judaism on Dating, Mating and Procreating
We Jews are well aware that our decisions are not purely the product of our own desires. Between the demands of our Creator, our Rabbis, our Jewish mothers, our communities and our respective cultures, there is little left for our ids and egos to squabble over. However, even as we are busy following halakha and the pack, many are still disillusioned by the fairy tale that we can still follow our hearts. For the great quest for true love remains eternally untainted. We choose our bashert based on a beautiful blend of chemistry, meant to be, and lifestyle compatibility. However, modern day scientists have found that our idea of the ideal mate, along with just about everything in our lives, is driven by our subconscious desire for survival. This approach, based on the Darwinian methodology, is called evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is not a specific sub-field of psychology, rather it is one of many biologically informed approaches to the study of human behavior based on a fabulous fusion of evolutionary biology, anthropology, cognitive science, and the neurosciences. The overarching evolutionary hypothesis is that, throughout the ages, we have been driven by natural internal mechanisms—products of natural selection—that have helped our ancestors get around the world, survive and reproduce. We continue to develop these mechanisms and adapt them to our respective environments.
The evolutionary theory has traditionally been exiled from our religion, dismissed as a scientific method of sin. For we chosen people believe to have evolved past the apes, intellectuals, and borderline atheists that make up the scientific community. It is our faith and favoritism with the Lord, we believe, that have ensured our survival all of these years. However, even if you don't believe in evolution, it still shapes your life; in fact, it's the reason you're here today. Every living being on the planet—plant, animal, human, yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, and non-Jewish—are all products of successful mating. No matter how we feel about Darwin, he makes us look pretty good; from an evolutionary perspective, we are a pretty resilient people. In spite of being the eternal underdogs, with a pretty barren homeland, height limitations, and those pesky Amalekim, we are still here, surviving, and yes, procreating.
The science behind mating and attraction is one of the central focuses of evolutionary research. The framework for said research stems out of three overarching hypotheses that make up the Sexual Strategies Theory:
a. Human Mating Is Inherently Strategic
Our subconscious has a whole lot more influence on our animalistic desires than we realize. Every aspect of attraction is subliminally dictated by our drive to find the mate that will best carry on our genes.
b. Mating Strategies are Context-Dependent
That is why those of different eras, countries, and socioeconomic statuses consider different traits to be desirable in a mate. Their desirability is based on what is necessary for survival in their respective societies. For example: many of us of European descent (particularly from third-generation Holocaust survivors) will find our bubbies and zaidies encouraging heartier eating habits. Because in Europe, food was often scarce and viewed as a luxury, plumper figures were idealized.
Men and women have faced different mating problems throughout history, and as a consequence have evolved gender-specific mating strategies.
Now you can call evolutionary psychologists chauvinists, but you will have to have to label the majority their subjects the same way, along with just about all of mankind that isn't dishonest with themselves or an exception to the rule. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss found in a study of 37 different countries that anyone with eyeballs and an average social IQ is well aware already: men are generally more concerned with the levels of attraction to their counterparts , and women with the statuses of their men. However, these seemingly superficial requirements actually have a pretty productive purpose, the continuation of mankind. The qualities that men consider to be beautiful in a woman are actually physical clues to her potential for fertility.
Curvaceous childbearing hips, flowing healthy hair, and clear youthful skin are all signs of a woman's health and childbearing abilities. Also, a man's ability to pay for dates at Prime Co., a ring from Tiffany and Co. or earn an Einstein acceptance letter are signals that he will be able to care for and protect his hypothetical future family (im yirtzeh Hashem soon by him!). When carefully observed, Darwinism and Judaism are, in fact, a pretty perfect shidduch. For evolutionary theorists focus on man's drive to populate the word, and we Jews are a little bit obsessed with being fruitful and multiplying. In fact, there are many specific Jewances that actually serve as evidence for various evolutionary theories.
What Meidels Want
"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," once gloated the four-eyed, double-chinned politician, Henry Kissinger. The unlikely ladies' man certainly shows great insight in his observation. Women are traditionally attracted to men with a mature facial structure and an athletic build. These traits are associated with masculinity and the level of protection he will able to provide for her. However, women are traditionally willing to look past less-than-macho looks if a man's future is attractive enough. Females are on the hunt for an alpha male. The alpha is defined differently by every species, circle and hashkafa. Whether you aspire to build a bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael or a Bayin Ne'iman b'Marcus we all have our criteria for the nicest Jewish boy based on our own personal backgrounds.
As time evolves, so do our definitions of the alpha. However, the constant among all of these versions of manly men is that they are the leaders of the pack and the most greatly desired by their female equivalents. Through the ages we have made the progression from fawning over brute to brains. In the beginning of time, the big-men-in-caves were the grizzliest men who were able to fight off predators and bring home the beef. In my Library Girl article, I discuss how we Hebrews have changed our types since the biblical days: "At the well, a woman measured a man by his sheep and strength. Now, intellect and ambition are valued." The way in which we choose to channel our intellect fluctuates with each individual community.
In more right-wing communities, the alpha is often the learner; in modern communities, he tends to be the earner. This does not imply that either community values knowledge or providing for one's family any more than the other (chas v'shalomzies!). Rather it is a manifestation of the differing religious approaches of each community. Inner yeshivish circles often follow the traditional mentality that the greatest way a man can provide for his family is by Torah study. Preceding many potential shidduch dates, the female will inquire what shuir a bachur attends, while it seems that the more modern seminaries are not teaching the hierarchy of the YP shiur system in night seder. The Torah u'Madda approach, by definition strongly influenced by Western culture, stresses not only Torah study but mastery of secular knowledge as well. Power is more often also expressed monetarily, for the caring for one's offspring requires paying for Moshava camps, day schools, Pesach in Miami and all of the brand name trends that the yeshiva day school system teaches our kinderlach they should be following.
What is the ultimate status symbol for an alpha? A trophy kallah, of course. The ability to attract a desirable female is a sign of high mate value and high status. Despite the Stepfordian and anti-feminist connotations that the trophy has developed, her reality remains as real as it was in the days when women were bartered for cattle. In many yeshivish circles, thin is the new pretty. A shockingly high number of yeshivish ladies feel that, in order to fit the machmir mold demanded by their hopeful shidduchim, they must fit into a size-zero dooty-length pleated skirt.
Health experts declare that eating disorders are a serious, under-reported disease among Orthodox Jewish women. A Brooklyn study of Ultra-Orthodox and Syrian communities found that one out of 19 girls was diagnosed with an eating disorder — a rate about 50 percent higher than that of the general U.S. population. For arranged marriages among the ultra-Orthodox, the first question matchmakers often ask is about physical appearance, including the woman's weight, and even the weight of her mother. In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolff writes that women often idealize the undernourished body because helps them regress to the dependency of a young child. This form of infantilization is also symbolic of a woman's self-discipline and willingness to sacrifice her own personal needs, desirable traits in many communities.
We all are aware of the extreme focus on tzniut in our religion. Often the aidlest-looking babes are considered the most desirable ladies. Judaism certainly does not have a monopoly on the valuing of purity, as the sources for both the halachot and the obsession is deeply rooted in our faith as well as in evolution. Our method of dress has come to identify our religiosity level, and stringency in the laws of tzniut have come to signify inner purity. Although this purity is encouraged for both sexes, in our culture today, there seems to be a much greater stress on the innocence of the maidels. For example, a ladies' man who flips out in Israel is much more able to gain social teshuva than any of the girls he may have tested his negiya with. Buss explains this phenomenon as men's inherent desire for chastity in a mate. In an international sample, two-thirds of men desire chastity in a marriage partner more than women do. Buss gives a second explanation with his paternity confidence theory. Signs of purity are additionally associated with a wife's potential for fidelity.A women can always be sure that her child is hers. A man cannot. Our modern-day perspective on fidelity has not evolved much since our big-lovin' fore-families. Buss found that among male college students fidelity was found as the most desirable trait (ranks third or fourth in American women).
Matchmakers should set up men only with women whose ages are "within a year or two of the boy's, or even older," declare 60 American and Israeli Roshei Yeshiva in a 2009 letter supporting opening the minds of picky bachurim. There is a phenomenon in our community: bachurim are looking for maidels younger and younger than themselves.eThat their kippoa may conceas their bald spots doesn't make this reality any less creepy or less true. Men in their thirties are looking for ladies fresh out of seminary, leaving a whole generation of suitable kallas in shidduch crisis. Evolutionary psychologists believe that this age-old issue is the result of man's preference for a mate with a high reproductive value over fertility.Fertility refers to the probability that a woman is currently able to conceive a child while her reproductive value is measured by the extent to which she will be able to contribute to future generations. While a 29-year-old on average is more fertile that a 19-year-old, the 19-year-old has greater reproductive value.
What is the role of evolutionary psychology in the nation of Torah scholars? Is it simply proof of man's sinful natural obsession with gashmiut? If we are going to limit ourselves to such a simplistic attitude, than we might as well regress to walking on our knuckles, and ape speech. The purpose of evolutionary psychology is not to denounce our desires for the tall, shtark and handsome or the Hot Mommy Chanas as immoral or archaic. In fact, that is not necessarily in the best interest of our people or even any people. We simply need to bring our subconscious motives to consciousness, and make sure that our genes and our selves are all on the same page. Genes don't care about human happiness: but humans do. We must make sure that we look for someone that we enjoy passing along our genes with. Additionally, the study of evolution is very much in line with the Semetic tradition of looking to our past, to guide our future. Every adaption found in evolutionary psychology is proof of how far our species has come. It forces us to stop adapting for a moment and ask: how far can we evolve?